The apparent dissolution of the Knesset and consequent snap elections may further shelve the Israeli military's plan to purchase cutting-edge Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopters, Ynet learned on Sunday.
In case Israel does end up heading for another round of elections, the acquisition of the helicopter, dubbed Super Yasur in Hebrew, will be withheld at the very least until a new government is sworn in early next year.
The country's political impasse of recent years has already taken its toll on the Israeli Air Force (IAF), which has only last year inked a deal with the United States to purchase 12 Sikorsky CH-53K helicopters after a two-year holdup induced by recurring elections.
However, the completion of the fleet, which requires six more helicopters, is contingent on a separate agreement that has not yet been signed and requires the approval of the Knesset House Committee and a permanent government.
The IDF is eager to complete the purchase of the advanced helicopters since the production of each unit may take up to three years from the moment the order is placed to the manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The IAF is also required to install dedicated Israeli combat systems in the chopper before it becomes operational, which may also take a long time.
A large portion of the old Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters that are currently in use and are expected to be replaced by the Super Yasur will be decommissioned in 2025 after being pushed to their very limit with more than 50 years of service.
Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky promised to supply the IAF with new parts to extend the life of the old Yasur choppers - not for the first or second time. However, the helicopters will most likely be bound by some operational restrictions that will restrict operational activity in order to reduce risks to the soldiers flying them.
Israel opted for the state-of-the-art Sikorsky CH-53k over Boeing's tandem-rotor CH-47 Chinook despite the latter costing nearly half of the Super Yasur's hefty $100-million price tag and boasting a decades-long track record in the service of many Western air forces.
The Sikorsky CH-53k helicopter can carry 55 passengers when centerline seats are installed while the cockpit features fly-by-wire controls which act to stabilize the aircraft and adjust the flying characteristics without the pilot's involvement even under harsh conditions.
The payload capacity of the Super Yasur is twice that of its predecessor and can and its range of flight can exceed 300 kilometers (186 miles) at a speed of more than 200 knots – almost twice as the old Yasur.
Three hatches on the chopper's floor will allow the safe and stable carrying of heavy loads such as logistical supplies and combat vehicles over approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles). The Sikorsky CH-53k is able to carry a total of 16 tons of equipment, vehicles, and/or fuel. In total, including the weight of the aircraft itself, the CH-53k can carry around 40 tons.
Israel is expected to receive its first helicopter in 2026. A delegation of IAF pilots to the U.S. has already taken the aircraft for a test flight. The IAF is expected to send another delegation that will make up the nucleus of the new squadron.
Officers in the U.S. Army in charge of the development and purchase of the helicopter said that despite its high initial cost, its contribution in the coming decades and its maintenance costs make it more cost-effective.